The boundaries of Baltimore’s nine police districts are expected to be substantially redrawn in the coming months for the first time in more than 50 years.
The nine district boundaries have not been significantly redrawn since 1959 despite changes in population and crime trends since then.
“Our city is not the same as it was then,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at a news conference Friday at police headquarters, announcing plans to reevaluate and redraw the geographic boundaries to use police resources more efficiently.
City officials are asking for the public’s feedback before a draft is created and a final version heads to the city council for a vote later this year.
In addition to public input, officials will evaluate data on the calls for service, crime trends, high-violence areas, workload assessments, and population changes to determine the new boundaries.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said redrawing the boundaries based on such data “will move our department forward.”
Thoughtfully drawing boundaries to meet the city’s needs today will allow the department to respond to crime more efficiently, and increase patrols and save money, he said.
The assessment comes after the Maryland General Assembly approved legislation that requires the department to draw new district boundaries after each decennial census. Baltimore’s population dipped below 600,000 for the first time in more than a century in the latest U.S. Census.
Scott said plans to redraw the district boundaries have been the focus of several administrations but not completed.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon called it a “top priority” after the killing of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. in the Northeastern District. The district is the largest with 17 square miles, and residents have long complained about far-flung resources.
The Baltimore Police Department receives about 1.5 million calls for service every year. The majority of the those calls are distributed across fewer than 34 neighborhoods, according to the Analysis of Calls for Service, 2017-2019 report, which was prepared for the federal consent decree monitoring team. (The city police are operating under a consent decree after a federal investigation found a pattern on unconstitutional policing, particularly in minority neighborhoods.)
Most calls come in the Northeastern District, about 14%, while the Eastern had the fewest, with about 9% of total calls, the report said. The Northeastern also had the most emergency calls, ranging from 13% to 15%. The Eastern and Western received the fewest. The Western is also the smallest district at just under three square miles.
The report notes the variations in the district sizes, population and neighborhoods. For example, the Central District’s population is 45,867 while the Northeastern District has 143,413 residents.
“The Central District is the downtown, a tourist district, and attracts thousands of visitors ... So, while the residential population is not large, this does not reflect the number of people there on a given day,” the report said.
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“We know that our districts have been an issue in the past and we want to make sure we get all the proper feedback from the community and otherwise to make sure we get this right,” said Councilman Mark Conway, who represents North Baltimore and chairs the council’s public safety committee.
Too often there are instances where police district borders run together, and there is confusion over calls, he said.
An area that has caused concern is the “Tri-District” where the South, Southwestern and Western police districts converge where West Baltimore Street crosses Fulton Avenue and Monroe Streets.
Mark Washington, executive director at Coldstream-Homestead Montebello Community Corporation, said his neighborhood is at the southern end of the department’s sprawling Northeastern District, which has caused delays for officers responding to calls there.
“We’ve been asking for this action for quite some time,” he said.
Officials said no draft plans have been created, and could not say whether future plans would include expanding or reducing the number of districts, or how new plans could affect the site of existing station houses.
A staffing plan, also required under the consent decree, suggests “realigning or consolidating police districts,” based on calls for service and population.